Miami Dealer Convicted of Illegal Sales of Migratory Birds
According to the Indictment, six defendants: Giraldo Wong, Rafael Padrino, Jorge Hernandez, Francisco Corrales, Pablo Olivera Garcia, and Madeleisy Molerio, all residents of the Miami-Hialeah, Florida area, unlawfully sold and offered for sale, indigo and painted buntings (Passerina cyanea and Passerina ciris), blue grosbeaks (Guiraca caerulea), and Northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinals) during the period of October 24, 2004 through July 11, 2005, in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Title 16, United States Code, Sections 703 and 707. Yesterdays verdict represented the final conviction in the case, wherein the other five defendants had previously entered guilty pleas before the Court.
Sentencing in the case of Jorge A. Hernandez has been set for April 12, 2006 at 11:00 a.m. before United States District Court Judge William M. Hoeveler, who presided over the case. Hernandez faces a potential prison sentence of up to two years on each of the four counts of conviction, and a possible fine of up to $250,000 per count.
Under federal law, the Secretary of the Interior maintains a list of highly migratory birds that are protected from, among other things, capture, barter, sale, or transport. The purpose of the federal law, which is almost 90 years old, is to protect species of birds which, because of their migratory behavior, may be subjected to such severe hunting and other take activity over their range that the species may suffer extirpation or extinction. The current case arose over the course of an investigation, dubbed Operation Bunting, which began when field biologists with the U.S. Geological Survey conducting research in South Florida noticed many protected migratory birds being sold illegally in pet stores and informal flea markets around Miami. Illegal trapping activities uncovered by a Park Service Ranger on the edge of Everglades National Park resulted in the development of intelligence that led to a large marketing site in Hialeah.
According to Court records and the testimony at trial, the defendants conducted regular sales, almost every Sunday, for many months in the parking lot of a business on Hialeah Drive. Undercover officers made direct purchases of birds from the various defendants over the course of the investigation, dubbed Operation Bunting. Many of the transactions were video and audio-taped. The informal bird market, often attended by 50 - 100 participants, relocated to Martin Luther King Park during the undercover investigation. Over the course of the operation officers were illegally sold over 250 protected migratory birds, and were offered in excess of 3,500 birds by the illegal dealers.
The Operation Bunting investigation also led to charges and convictions against three pet store operators for possessing the same protected species in their stores.
In announcing the conviction in the current case, U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta stated, Maintaining the quality of life for the residents of our area includes insuring compliance with the environmental laws that protect our land and water resources, and the wildlife that inhabit them. Cooperative efforts such as Operation Bunting demonstrate the joint commitment of federal and state agencies to insure current and future generations will not be denied the benefits of our environment for the sake of a few that violate the law in pursuit of money. Captain Jeff Ardelean, commenting on the nine convictions resulting from this operation, commented: This successful prosecution is one example of how several agencies can work together to combat the illegal trafficking of Floridas protected wildlife. Resident Agent in Charge Eddie McKissick, looking towards future enforcement noted: This prosecution does not signal an end to efforts and investigations into the violations of our natural resource protection laws. We will continue to work in concert with our enforcement partners to identify and apprehend others who fail to respect the wildlife that is the common heritage of all Floridians.
Research conducted over a thirty year period has indicated that populations of at least one of the protected species involved in these cases - the painted bunting (Passerina ciris), have declined over 50% throughout their migratory range. Further information regarding these species, including photographs and research information, may be found at http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/framlst/infocenter.html.
Mr. Acosta commended the investigative efforts of the Special Agents of the Fish & Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Investigators of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission who participated in the undercover investigation, which led to the charges in these matters. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald and Legal Intern Sarah Edgecomb.
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